The coyote: Clever, evasive and always hungry

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  • Photos by DON BARTLING A coyote is forever searching for food, here he is stalking a mouse beneath the snow.

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    Perhaps more than any other animal, the coyote has shown an ability to adapt to its surroundings.

  • Photos by DON BARTLING A coyote is forever searching for food, here he is stalking a mouse beneath the snow.

  • 1

    Perhaps more than any other animal, the coyote has shown an ability to adapt to its surroundings.

“The coyote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton, with a gray wolf-skin stretched over it, a tolerable bushy tail that forever sags down with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all over.

“The coyote is a living, breathing allegory of want. He is always hungry. He is always poor, out of luck, and friendless. The meanest creatures despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede. He is so spiritless and cowardly than even while his exposed teeth are pretending a threat, the rest of his face is apologizing for it. And he is so homely, so scrawny, and ribby, and coarse-haired and pitiful.” — Mark Twain 1886

Recently I was on a sightseeing trip on the Farm-to-Market road west of Highway 95 in northern Boundary County. It was early in the morning and I was looking for a Wile E. Coyote. A few deer made their appearance, looked back at me and ran across the road into the foothills. As I approached the Canadian border I spotted a gray-yellow, furry, four-legged animal in a snowy field that resembled my quarry. Upon closer inspection I was able to identify the hairy creature as a coyote.

He stopped, looked at me and determined I was not a threat, and he moved on with his ears straining forward and studying the snowy landscape for a mouse. He paused several times, sniffed, looked, turned his head and made a leap into the air and landed sticking his nose into the snow. But he was not successful in getting a mouse so he moved on to attempt catching another rodent hiding in the white blanket covering the field. Several times he would look back at me, calculating I was no danger because I was on the other side of a drainage ditch and on a county road, so he kept going, his nose close to the snow and his ears upright listening for any sound indicating it was lunch time.

Eventually he circled back within 30 yards of me confident that he had found another mouse burrowed under the snow. He crept stealthily approaching the place in the snow where he thought there was a field mouse, but upon inspection he discovered the prize was gone and just the scent lingered. With a sigh of despair and lifting his black shiny nose to test the wind, he glanced around and loped into the foothills and disappeared.

He was a wily coyote but not the Wile E. Coyote of Roadrunner fame. He was not the mistake-prone, accident-prone, and not-quite-as-clever-as-he-thinks-he is cartoon character lucky to survive to the next cartoon. This real life animal, however, is indeed very clever, evasive and extremely adaptable. The coyote can be from the deserts of Arizona, the plains of Kansas, the mountains of Canada or the fields of North Idaho.

Perhaps more than any other animal, the coyote has shown an ability to adapt to its surroundings. Part of the reason, besides being very clever, is the coyote’s appetite, which may consist of a rabbit or mouse for one meal, and road-kill for the next. The coyote feeds mostly on small rodents, like mice and rabbits, but the coyote also will eat vegetation, fruit, fish and human food. In other words, the coyote is an opportunistic feeder.

Though normally a lone hunter, coyotes will often hunt in packs during the fall and winter or where food is scarce. They at times endanger livestock, though even in packs would not likely attack large animals like cows or horses, but could attack colts or calves, and certainly goats and sheep. More likely though, a coyote pack would have deer in its sights. Adult humans generally have nothing to fear from the coyotes.

A fully-grown coyote is roughly the size of a Collie dog, and has the same general appearance. The coyote is smaller than a wolf, although from a distance will often resemble a wolf. They have a life span of approximately 15 years in the wild, though most pups don’t survive the first year.

Enjoy Boundary County and its wildlife!

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